Latin America is facing a revolution in terms of payments, especially instant payments. Completing a transfer in less than a second, free of charge, and with just a few clicks on your smartphone is incredible, right? That’s exactly the delivered promise of PIX, Brazil’s instant payments system. as well as two different private initiatives from Peru and Colombia.
In this article we will present to you interesting insights from Carlos Eduardo Brandt (Central Bank of Brazil), Domagoj Rozic (Minka), and Micaela Blondet (Yape). Get ready to explore the main solutions that are already in motion in the region, and have an overview about how Latin America is moving towards a bright future in regards to payments.
How did it happen?
First of all, it is important to understand that the main driver of instant payments in Latin America was due to the regional context. The low bancarization in Latin America (LATAM) has promoted a financial system where cards are important, credit is many times aspirational, and cash and alternative payment methods are very relevant.
It is known that many instant payment solutions in Latin America, such as PIX, were largely inspired by Asian super apps. A pioneering reference is the Chinese WeChat: with over 1 billion users in 45 countries, it aggregates messages, social media, payments, and other functionalities.
The revolution in Asia started in 2012, when mobile payments took off in China with the widespread adoption of smartphones and payment apps. In 2015, Alipay, which is part of the Alibaba group, launched its own online version of a credit card. However, China, differently from LATAM, never had a real credit card culture, and this is why it jumped straight from cash into digital transactions.
Since 2012, mobile payments’ share among payments in general in China rose from 4% to over 90%. Besides the Chinese super apps Alipay and WeChat, another example of a successful mobile payment solution is Paytm: a super app from India which is used by more than 250 million people in 11 languages.
In the end, they have all served as an inspiration for e-wallets and now super app wannabes in LATAM, such as PicPay in Brazil: the largest digital wallet in the country, with over 55 million users. Since its foundation, in 2012, PicPay’s basic idea was to provide peer-to-peer (P2P) transfers between users, 24 hours a day, every day of the week.
Although extremely successful as a digital wallet, PicPay was never able to truly promote a revolution in instant payments in the country. On the other hand, PIX did it. The digitization of payments, instant payments, and especially PIX, has taken LATAM miles closer to the Asian reality.
PIX: the most successful instant payment in Latin America
Let’s say that 50% of the instant payments revolution in LATAM right now is Brazil’s PIX. The instant payment system has been the most successful initiative in Latin America so far, and from the financial inclusion perspective, it may be the most successful example in the world too. It happens within a highly regulated environment, directly controlled by the Brazilian Central Bank (BACEN).
Officially launched in November 2020, PIX works on a 24/7 basis, with real-time clearing and settlement, and has a huge development roadmap ahead. The Brazilian instant payment system was the payment method with the highest growth rate in Latin America’s e-commerce in 2021. With fast adoption, PIX has outstanding statistics:
- 20% month over month growth average in one year
- More than 364 million registered keys and 107 million registered users by November 2021
- More than 700 billion dollars already been transferred in one year
- 60% of the Brazilian population already using Pix and the number keeps growing
- The number of PIX transactions was 3 times the number of traditional transfers in June 2021
More so, PIX already surpassed the credit card ownership in the country, which is at 25%, according to the World Bank Global Findex. It has also outpaced boleto and card growth volumes when we talk about ecommerce payment methods in Brazil.
Uber, the globally known ride hailing service provider was one of the first multinationals to adopt PIX in Brazil. There is also no doubt about the huge potential for PIX penetration in e-commerce as well. The first big local retailer to offer PIX was Americanas, which implemented the solution in December of 2020. Magalu and other industry giants only did the same months later. The big challenge is not only to make the method available but to integrate it with inventory management and logistics systems.
If the big ones took some time to adapt, among the small shopkeepers, it was necessary to wait for more ready-made, customized, easy-to-use solutions that are now available. According to Nuvemshop, LATAM’s answer to Shopify, around 10% of the 46,000 sellers that use the platform in Brazil offer PIX; the method accounts for 7% of all the transactions made within the platform — which indicates that there’s a lot of room for PIX to grow among small shopkeepers.
The past and future of PIX
As it was mentioned, PIX was launched in November of 2020 and became a tremendous success in Brazil in less than one year. As many other new payment systems, PIX started as a P2P transfer option. It aimed at people’s day-to-day activities and small-ticket purchases, made physically or not. This is something that makes a lot of sense in a country where more than half of the adult population work informally and several don’t have access to a bank account or credit.
Now, PIX can be considered more than a payment solution: it is an entire ecosystem of financial services to all Brazilians. Carlos Eduardo Brandt (Deputy Head of Competition and Financial Market Structure at the Brazilian Central Bank) was one of the minds behind PIX. He said that the Central Bank didn’t expect such a quick and strong adoption by the population, and that, since the beginning, the goal was to promote inclusion and competitiveness to the Brazilian Financial system.
“We are really offering a new payment instrument or a payment ecosystem that could reach anyone. It doesn’t matter in which institution you have a relationship with, you can make a PIX to anyone.”, said Brandt.
So, what’s next? The Brazilian Central Bank launched in November, 2021, the PIX Saque (Withdraw) and PIX Troco (Change). Yet, a series of new features will be introduced into the PIX system during the coming years.
Brandt claimed: “So we have this, as we call evolving agenda, which is our roadmap for new functionality, new products and so on, and what every product that we have, this roadmap is intended to benefit some particular segments and so on.”
Thus, it is known that the Central Bank of Brazil is currently working on the following features:
- Offline and dual offline payments: an alternative for people without internet connectivity in a particular moment to pay offline.
- Contactless payments: turning payments faster and more convenient.
- Guaranteed payments: in case a PIX user wants to buy now and pay later.
- Direct debit: an option to debit directly from a PIX user account, which will be very convenient for recurring payments.
We can say that PIX has a bright future ahead, but what about other initiatives in LATAM? Let’s have a look at them!
Other initiatives around Latin America
The PIX revolution in Brazil has been sending a really good message to regulators and stakeholders across LATAM and it is a benchmark for other real-time payment experiences in the region. There are some questions, however, of why other initiatives such as PIX have arisen and yet not succeeded in the region.
We can mention CoDi, in Mexico, for example. The goal of the solution is to be a cash substitute and has been available since 2019. But, the problem is that it was strongly impacted by the pandemic and, unlike PIX, it is not an initiative designed for the online experience.
Adoption has been another pain point of CoDi. Similar to PIX, it was designed by the local regulator. However, once again, differently from PIX, it faces many challenges in bringing consumers, banks, as well as small and large merchants.
In Peru and Colombia, however, the instant payments revolution is taking a different path than in Mexico and Brazil. In both countries, solutions were born within the private sector and are not directly regulated or controlled by the Central Banks. So here is an overview about them::
Transfya – Colombia
Minka is a Colombian fintech company that designed Transfiya, a real-time transfer system launched in February 2020 in partnership with ACH Colombia (an institution responsible for bank-to-bank operations in the country).
Their goal is to make Transfiya the number one option for person-to-person transfers in Colombia. So, similar to what happened in many countries, the pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital payments in Colombia, since the government provided many subsidies.
Around 370,000 transfers with government subsidies were made via Transfiya and traditional bank accounts integrated into the system. This has enabled Transfiya growth and nowadays the system has over 1 million users besides 4 million transactions registered. But, how were these numbers achieved?
We have spoken to Domazoj Rozic, CEO at Minka. He explained that in Colombia more than 85% of the transactions are still done in cash. Thus, Colombians are dependents of cash agents like mom-and-pop shops in the corner where they send money to different parts of Colombia. Transfya, therefore, comes to boost the online payments adoption in the country, and here is what Rozic said about what are the main advantages of their solution:
“Sending money a year ago, before we started the project, needed one to three days, required a lot of information, had to write to the bank, and it cost a lot. Now, it’s free, it’s real-time, it’s last than three seconds, and you only need the phone number. So this is already the reality, the part of P2P transfers already surpassed what is usually done in the financial system, and the interesting part coming up right now is how do we apply it to different kinds of use cases, since the platform is generic.”
According to Rozic the next big step in terms of e-commerce and instant payments in Colombia would be by enabling Pagos Seguros en Línea, or just PSE, within Transfiya. PSE is a payment solution developed by ACH, the organization responsible for bank-to-bank operations in the country. At PSE’s interface, the consumer is redirected to their internet banking and can make the transaction in real-time, without needing a credit card.
At least but not last, the Transfiya model is exportable. So, we were informed that there are some projects under development to take the instant payment model to other countries in Latin America.
Yape and PLIN – Peru
Peru has two private and exportable payments solutions: Yape, an app by Peru’s largest bank Banco de Crédito del Perú; and PLIN, owned by YellowPepper in partnership with Peruvian banks BBVA, Interbank, and Scotiabank.
Yape started its operations in 2017 having only Banco de Crédito’s clients as their customers and offering them an easier way to make P2P payments. Later, in May 2020, when its rival PLIN was launched, all Peruvians were able to use it. Considering that Peru has the lowest level of banking penetration and highest cash usage level in the region, Yape gained a lot of traction by moving money this way.
In 2020, Yape scaled up by growing seven-fold its original size. According to Micaela Blondet, Customer Experience Manager at Yape, their success formula was basically being an issuer with a high market share and strong brand recognition, allied with deep penetration within the Peruvian market and limited bank interoperability.
“Yape has been doing a great job by financially including the unbanked population, offering really great financial services to folks who haven’t had access to these services before, which improves their quality of life. And then there’s PIX in Brazil, of course, also a very simple P2P payment app that lets you scan QR codes like Yape”, said Blondet.
The consultancy Americas Market Intelligence (AMI) believes that Yape’s business model could work in Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and Costa Rica. Why? Because it has great potential in smaller markets with a solid leading bank and not so many fintech startups available.
From Latin America to the world and vice-versa
P2P and consumer-to-business transactions accounts for the greatest share of the current real-time payments in 48 markets studied by ACI Worldwide and GlobalData. The study also points out that B2B are expected to drive a much higher volume of payments from 2022 onwards.
One thing that is on the roadmap of all these systems is the interconnection between them on a global scale. Some tests are already being runned within the scope of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). As we could see from PIX, Yape and Transfiya, there are high expectations on exporting their models, or serving as a benchmark. Yet, in the Brazilian case, for example, it depends on the approval of the new exchange rate legislation (sent by the Central Bank to the Brazilian Congress in 2020).
Again, when we talk about PIX, Brandt said that the Brazilian Central Bank is having many demands from other countries that are implementing instant payment ecosystems. For him, this is very important, so one can learn with each other and it can be inferred that, in the future, there will be no cross border barriers to integrate everyone.
We can say that this is just the beginning of an instant payment revolution that has been shaking LATAM. As we have discussed in this article, there is, of course, still a lot to learn from Asian experiences and local initiatives. Latin Americans are still far from living a cashless reality, but they are definitely gaining more access, inclusion and convenience in regards to payments.
Do you want to dive deeper into the Latin American payments and e-commerce reality and know all trends and statistics? Don’t hesitate to access EBANX’s annual study! Beyond Borders 2021 | 2022: How digital payments and e-commerce are gaining traction in Latin America.